India accounts for 45.8 million of the world’s 142.6 million “missing females” over the past 50 years, a report by the United Nations said on Tuesday, June 30, noting that the country along with China forms the majority of such women globally. “Missing females” are women missing from the population at given dates due to the cumulative effect of postnatal and prenatal sex selection in the past, the agency said.
The State of World Population 2020 report released on Tuesday by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the world organization’s sexual and reproductive health agency, said that the number of “missing women” has more than doubled over the past 50 years, from 61 million in 1970 to a cumulative of 142.6 million in 2020. Of this whole global figure, India accounts for 45.8 million missing females in 2020 and China accounted for 72.3 million.
Missing Girls right from Birth
The report said, “Between 2013 and 2017, about 460, 000 girls in India were “missing” at birth each year, according to one analysis, gender-biased sex selection accounts for two- thirds of the total missing girls, and post-birth female mortality accounts for about one- third.” The experts after citing the data said that “China and India together account for about 90- 95per cent of the estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million missing female births annually worldwide due to gender-biased (prenatal) sex selection. The two countries also account for the largest number of births each year.”
The report cites data by Alkema, Leontine, and others, 2014 ‘National, Regional and Global Sex Ratios of Infant, Child and under- 5 Mortality and Identification of Countries with Outlying Ratios, which is a “Systematic Assessment” from The Lancet Global Health.
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Excess rate of death of females
According to their analysis, “India has the highest rate of excess female deaths i.e. 13.5 per 1, 000 female births, which suggests that an estimated one in nine deaths of females below the age of 5, that is attributed to postnatal sex selection.”The report says that “The governments have also taken action to address the root causes of sex selection. India and Vietnam have included campaigns that target gender stereotypes to change attitudes and open the door to new norms and behaviours.” Their main motive is to highlight how girls and women have brought a change to society for the betterment and to bring the importance of daughters in the spotlight. Campaigns that celebrate women’s progress and achievements may resonate more where daughter- only families can be shown for a further prospering future.
The report said that “Successful education-related interventions include the provision of cash transfers conditional on school attendance, or support to cover the costs of school fees, books, uniforms, and supplies, taking note of successful cash- transfer initiatives such as “Apni Beti Apni Dhan” in India.” It is noted that preference for a male child manifested in sex selection has led to dramatic, long- term shifts in the proportions of women and men in the populations of some countries.
The demographic imbalance will have an inevitable impact on marriage systems. In countries where marriage is nearly universal, many men need to delay or forego marriage because they are unable to find spouses, according to the report. This so-called ‘marriage- squeeze’, where prospective grooms outnumber prospective brides, has already been observed in some countries and affects mostly young men from lower economic strata. And at the same time, the marriage- squeeze could result in more child marriages, the experts reported.
The UN report says that every year, millions of girls are subjected to harmful practices that harm them physically and emotionally, with full knowledge and consent of their families, friends, and communities. At least 19 harmful practices ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing are considered human rights violations, according to the UNFPA report, which focuses on the three most prevalent ones, female genital mutilations, child marriage, and extreme bias against daughters in favour of sons.
The UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem said, “Harmful practices against girls cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of their right to reach their full potential.”
Female Genital Mutilations
This year, around 4.1 million girls will be subjected to female genital mutilations. Today 33, 000 girls under the age of 18 will be forced into marriages, usually to too much older men and an extreme preference for sons over daughters in some countries has fuelled gender-biased sex selection or extreme neglect that leads to their death as children, resulting in the 140 million “missing females”. The report says that ending child marriages and female genital mutilations worldwide will need another 10 years by scaling up efforts to keep girls in school longer and teach them life- skills and engage men and boys in social change.
A recent analysis revealed that if services and programmes remain shuttered for six months due to Covid- 19 pandemic, an additional 13 million girls may be forced into marriage and 2 million more girls may be subjected to female genital mutilations between 2020 and 2030. “The pandemic had made the job tougher and more urgent as so many more girls are now at risk”, Kanem Said